Vending Machines, Self-Screening Apps Help Combat COVID-19

The University of California San Diego is using vending machines to distribute COVID-19 tests to students. Universities hope easy access to testing and self-screening apps will tamp down possible Coronavirus outbreaks, so students can stay on campus. Airports and other public areas are also following suit and adding easy-to-use vending machines with test kits. 


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Image credit: Oakland International Airport

When students are hankering for a snack, they can hit vendo-land and grab some munchies, a drink, and now, a COVID-19 test. The University of California San Diego recently installed 11 vending machines that dispense COVID-19 self-testing kits. The vending machines are in or near residence halls and common areas, and more will be rolled out in the coming weeks.

Students can swipe their student ID card at any of the vending machines to obtain a free nasal swab COVID-19 test. Tests have to be used within 72 hours, and they are returned in drop boxes located near each vending machine. Each machine contains nasal swab test kits, which are replenished as needed. UC San Diego students are required to take COVID-19 tests weekly as part of the university’s Return to Learn initiative that uses contact tracking and data modeling to identify outbreaks on campus. 

Once they retrieve each kit from the vending machine, students scan the test’s barcode label using the UC San Diego smartphone app. This registers the test and links it to a specific student. The UC San Diego app ties into the student’s MyChart health information app, where students can view their test results. It also allows the university to monitor student testing and positive test results.

Chips, Coke, and a COVID-19 Test

Other places also are deploying vending machines to help curb COVID-19. Hong Kong has deployed similar COVID-test vending machines to increase testing accessibility for residents. The city currently has installed ten vending machines in transit stations. Residents can scan their transit cards to collect a COVID-19 test free of charge. A fixed number of tests are available daily, and residents are limited to one a day. The city’s transit app provides up-to-date counts of test supplies in the vending machines. 

In the U.K., Stop The Spread Solutions has added SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Test kits to its existing touchless PPE vending machines, which also dispense KN95 face masks and hand sanitizer. Customers can wave a hand over sensors connected to various products and pay using touchless credit card technology. 

In the US, Wellness 4 Humanity and Swyft Inc. are teaming up to introduce contactless vending machines with COVID-19 saliva tests. Currently, the vending machines are only at Oakland International Airport and in Herald Square in New York City, but the company plans to expand to additional locations soon. 

Customers can purchase Covid-19 test kits for about $130, and must be purchased through After purchasing a test kit online, customers are emailed a QR code that they scan at the vending machine to receive their kit. The tests are shipped to a lab, and results are later available on a mobile app.

Self Screening is the New Normal

In addition to physical testing, UC San Diego requires all students and personnel to complete a daily symptom and exposure screening using the California COVID Notify app. The app uses a series of questions, based on CDC guidelines, to determine whether an individual may have contracted COVID-19.

Upon completion, the app will display a green, yellow, or red thumb on the screen. A green thumb indicates that the person has no COVID symptoms and has a recent negative COVID-19 test. This allows the individual to gain access to campus facilities and attend in-person classes at UC San Diego. The California COVID Notify app also uses contact tracing to track possible exposures.

The University of Michigan, among other universities, is linking COVID-19 test results to student ID cards, which are used to access campus buildings. A positive COVID-19 test will automatically deactivate the student ID card, prohibiting them from entering university facilities. Failing to adhere to the university’s testing policies will also deactivate student ID cards.

After facing outbreaks in the fall semester, universities are ramping up to testing and screening to avoid a repeat in the spring. Vending machines and self-screening apps use existing technology to create a convenient method to monitor and prevent COVID-19 cases.

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